Achingly sad. If you want a tearjerker, this film will easily fit the bill. The narrator's eponymous atonement, however, is incomplete; even at the end she is trying to spin events to cast herself in the best light. You catch pungent whiffs of her guilt, but she has yet to fully accept responsibility for her actions. The zinger of an ending packs an emotional punch.
Bridge to Terabitha (2007)
I both enjoyed and hated this movie; it had completely disingenuous marketing. Out of nowhere it hits you with a bus from another genre. Terrifically well done.
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Another disingenuously marketed film, it follows the career of a spunky, young female boxer and her trainer (Clint Eastwood). It too shifts from one genre into another, knocking the ground out from under you in the process. Bam! The acting is great, the morals nuanced, and the dialogue sharp. But you'll want to punch the screen at some point.
The emotional journey of the characters and their struggle against seemingly impossible odds is deeply affecting. Jude Law chews the sets, the scenery, and the other actors in the best performance of his career. Ethan Hawke is in it too. The discriminatory system in which Hawke's character lives denies him his dreams from the outset, forcing Hawke to resort to elaborate subterfuge. By far the most impressive film I have ever seen that involves such copious amounts of urination.
Sucker Punch (2011)
Stunning visuals that get less impressive as the film goes on. Cardboard characters violently dance through fantastical set pieces with mechanical precision. Unlike Atonement, Bridge to Terabitha, Million Dollar Baby, and Gattaca, it contains no emotional sucker punch. It's an effects reel strung together with the thinnest narrative gruel.
Enjoy the sugary sights. That's all you'll get.
The Artist (2011)
Fluff that owes its popularity to a gimmick, the charm of the lead actor, and a million watt smile. Harmless and amusing, it did not deserve best picture. Not by a long shot.